News Analysis by Shanique Byrd -
Local politicians and community members are voicing concerns over Gov. Kathy Hochul’s private meeting regarding a potential casino in the Rochester area.
The Politico reported the Seneca Nation of Indians and the Hochul administration have been quietly negotiating plans for a casino in downtown Rochester as part of a new gaming compact for the Western New York tribe, according to officials familiar with the discussions.
The revelation caused an uproar among lawmakers.
“Our gripe as elected officials who happen to be Democrats, is not with Seneca Nation, they have no allegiance to us,” Assemblyman Demond Meeks said. “Our gripe is with our Democratic governor, who we supported, who we elected to represent the issues and concerns of our communities.”
Legislator Rachel Barnhart tweeted, "Local leaders and residents have zero input into this. Lives will be destroyed, businesses will be destroyed."
However, in 2013 The New York Times reported voters in NY approved a constitutional amendment to expand casino gambling, authorizing as many as seven full-scale casinos as part of a plan meant to bring jobs to economically distressed upstate regions. At the time, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, "This new law will bring the state one step closer to establishing world-class destination gaming resorts that will attract tourists to Upstate New York and support thousands of good paying jobs as well as new revenue for local businesses."
Cuomo later approved licensing to Tioga Downs in Nichols, del Lago Resort & Casino in Waterloo, Rivers Casino & Resort in Schenectady, and Montreign Casino in the Catskills to operate in the Upstate NY region.
So, are fears of a new casino mostly out of concern for competition?
The financial windfall del Lago Resort & Casino, Rivers Casino & Resort, and Tioga Downs Casino Resort projected fell about $220 million short of their estimates for first-year gaming revenue, according to data supplied to the New York Gaming Commission.
In 2018, del Lago Resort & Casino's former owner Tom Wilmot requested a bailout within a year of opening. Reports state Wilmot blamed the Seneca Nation of Indians for his misfortune. He claimed the tribe was stealing would-be del Lago patrons with money it improperly withheld from the state.
Talks of an additional casino in a competitive market come over a year after Churchill Downs announced their agreement to buy the company that owns del Lago Resort & Casino in Seneca County.
Competitors like the president of Finger Lakes Horseman’s Association fear more competition. “Finger Lakes cannot survive as a racetrack with the decrease in revenue that this would cause, there’s no way it’s sustainable, so if this casino comes in, you can say goodbye to all these jobs,” David Brown confirmed.
Assemblyman Harry Bronson has been vocal in his concern about a potential casino in downtown Rochester—the growing outrage over the financial impact on its competitors like the New York State Lottery appears to be a major gripe for him.
“What does that mean to our families? What does that mean to the gaming industry here? What impact will it have on the existing casinos,” Bronson asked. “And what impact will it have on the thousands of workers who are currently working there who are union workers getting good pay with benefits?”
According to NYassembly.gov, the New York State lottery program is the largest and most profitable in the United States, earning over $74.3 billion since its founding.
Clearly many New Yorkers are gambling. Finding out the views of the general public on the issue may be eye opening.